Ask An Expert: S.I. Strong

S.I. Strong, Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law and Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution at the University of Missouri and an international commercial arbitration specialist, speaks about her career and discusses the rise of international commercial mediation and the increase in multiparty arbitration.

What is your current role in dispute resolution?

As a full-time law professor and arbitrator, I would categorise myself as primarily an advisor.

I got involved in international dispute resolution my first year in practice in New York – I was very interested in private international and comparative law, but I didn’t want to go into transactional practice. My firm became involved in what was then the largest ICC (International Chamber Commerce) arbitration in history, and I had the opportunity to see how complex international arbitration was. From that moment, I was hooked.

In the last few years, I have also become interested in international commercial mediation, based on the work I am doing with the US State Department and UNCITRAL on the new proposed convention on settlement agreements arising out of international commercial mediations.

I specialise in all aspects of international commercial arbitration, with some additional expertise in international commercial mediation. I also work in the area of large-scale arbitration (class, mass and collective proceedings in the US and elsewhere) and trust arbitration. Recently I’ve begun doing some research into arbitral reasoning and the writing of awards.

Which processes do you use most frequently?

I am primarily an arbitrator, so the question of processes/methods is somewhat moot – I simply follow the rules required by the arbitration agreement and any institutional rules that the parties have chosen. In mediation, I am more facilitative than evaluative.

How is the market currently addressing parties’ needs?

The market is doing well to address parties’ needs, at least in the international market, though I think we have more providers than we actually need. While the large, established institutions should not have a monopoly on international arbitration/mediation, I worry about whether some of the more recent additions to the field can deliver the type of high-quality services that the established institutions can. If the new institutions have a lacklustre roster or substandard administrative team, the reputation of international arbitration as a whole will suffer, to the detriment of all.

How do you think the dispute resolution processes are likely to change in the future?

I think that international commercial mediation will likely increase in the coming years and hope that the new convention will put international mediation and international arbitration on an equal playing field so that parties can choose the procedure that suits them best without concerns about which mechanism is better supported through the surrounding law.

I also think that large-scale arbitration (which includes US style class arbitration but also other large-scale mechanisms like mass arbitration and collective arbitration) and multiparty arbitration will be seen in increasing numbers in the future. Indeed, some institutions already have a significant number of multiparty proceedings, and the nature of the contracts/disputes that are developing suggest that those numbers will go up.

Could a better cross-cultural dialogue help to further dispute resolution processes and improve access to justice?

I’ve done a considerable amount of cross-cultural comparative work in matters involving large-scale arbitration and trust arbitration, and believe that it is critical to know what devices are being developed in other systems.

Not only is it possible that another system has created a dispute resolution form that answers the questions you face, but you will need to know what the issues are in other systems if you are to create a mechanism that is acceptable on a cross-border basis. Thus, a large part of my work as an academic involves publicising new devices from around the world so that everyone can benefit from regional innovation.

Interview by Natasha Mellersh.

S.I. Strong, Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law and Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution at the University of Missouri and specialises in international dispute resolution and comparative law, with an emphasis on international commercial arbitration.  She is also an experienced practitioner and is a dual-qualified US attorney/solicitor (New York/England and Wales). 

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